Eight scholars begin summer Translational Science Fellowship program

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute offers highly interactive program


By Matthew G. Solovey

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s 2021 Translational Science Fellowship summer program begins this week. Graduate and medical students are attending a highly interactive 10-session program to learn clinical and translational research skills, which they can apply to their own mentored research projects.

The program is targeted at early-stage learners and includes training in foundational skills like research design and data analysis and professional skills such as communication, ethics and teamwork. The program uses real-world clinical and translational research examples throughout the course.

Opportunities to practice skills are integrated throughout the program using case studies, simulations, computer-based modules and small-group discussions. Penn State faculty lead the interactive sessions.

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s TL1 training grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health funds the summer program. Ira Ropson is the program director.

Learn more about the program in this story.

This year’s scholars, chosen through a competitive process, are Debarati Bhanja, Juliet Chung, Courtney Gerver, Madison Hearn, Kyungsene Lee, Griselda Martinez, Kiernan Riley and Deniz Siso.

Debarati Bhanja

Debarati Bhanja is a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

“I was deeply interested in TSF for the dedicated mentorship and research training I would receive,” Bhanja said. “My training up to this point has given me great opportunities to be involved in a wide spectrum of research. I have dipped my toes in research methodologies ranging from western blots, cell culture, mouse models, machine learning, clinical research, etc. That broad training has built my strong passion for innovative research.”

Bhanja’s project is “Establishing Fractional Recovery Values of Repurposed Antifungal Drug Candidates for a Glioblastoma Phase 0 Clinical Trial.”

Bhanja is looking forward to the sessions “Inventions: Solving Big Medical Problems Through Collaboration” and “Innovation Bridging Clinical Practice with Emerging Electronics.”

“One of my passions is innovation in medical devices and biotechnology,” she said. “I have been an original team member of a health technology start-up since undergraduate and have continued to be involved in that work through medical school. In addition, my adviser Dr. Alireza Mansouri, has helped me explore biotechnology innovation in neurosurgery with various research ideas and projects.”

Juliet Chung

Juliet Chung is a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

“One of my career goals as a researcher is to become a lead scientist on a project and to publish as a first author,” Chung said. “Through the Translational Science Fellowship, I hope to improve my foundational skills of research design, strategic planning and data analysis as well as my public speaking skills and presentation of my scientific research. I also wish to improve upon my scientific knowledge and collaborative leadership skills in professional settings. Participation in this program will train me to become a more confident scientist and provide me the tools to achieve my goal of producing publications as a first author.”

Chung’s project is “Paroxetine Versus Duloxetine as a Cartilage Preserving Pain Management Therapy in Osteoarthritis.”

“I have a background in research from working in the translational research program in Pediatric Orthopedics Department at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,” Chung said. “During my time at CHOP, I discovered my research interest in orthopedic translational research, which drove me to pursue orthopedic research at Penn State College of Medicine. Currently, I am working on research projects focusing on osteoarthritis.”

Chung’s adviser is Fadia Kamal.

Courtney Gerver

Courtney Gerver is a psychology graduate student at Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, University Park campus.

“I hope to apply what I learn by generating research that will directly and positively benefit geriatric community members in a personal and long-term capacity. Specifically, I want to reduce burdens associated with aging cognition,” Gerver said.

Her project is “Preserving Independent Living in Older Adults by Offsetting Age-Related Declines in Memory with Cognitive-Based Creativity Training.”

“My research involves investigating the relationship between memory and creativity,” Gerver said. “Specifically, I seek to leverage the association between memory and creative cognition to offset typical age-related declines in memory. I conduct this work because age-related memory decline can significantly jeopardize performance on activities critical to independent living. Because older adults are one of the fastest-growing populations worldwide, I aim to find enjoyable means to maintain or improve their everyday cognitive functioning.”

Gerver’s adviser is Nancy A. Dennis.

Madison Hearn

Madison Hearn is a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

“The Translational Science Fellowship is an opportunity to grow and gain the skills necessary to successfully integrate research into my career as a physician and public health advocate,” Hearn said. “I hope to leverage what I learn in the program to perform effective research that can be translated into clinical practices and policies that promote health equity.”

Hearn’s project is “Examining the Relationship Between Health Literacy, Healthcare Trust and Utilization of Cancer Screening Among Women in Rural and Segregated Areas.”

“I am interested in research that better characterizes mediating factors that contribute to health disparities and the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving outcomes for medically underserved populations,” Hearn said. “Ultimately, I hope to use my findings to innovate new ways to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare, particularly for rural populations.”

Hearn’s adviser is Jennifer Moss.

Kyungsene Lee

Kyungsene Lee is a biomedical engineering graduate student at Penn State College of Engineering, University Park campus.

“Currently, my research is more weighed to in vitro studies, but I hope to learn and make translational research easy to be applied to my future research,” Lee said. “I expect to broaden my horizons about my research area through communication with scientists from different fields. Working about one single research topic tends to lead to isolation of my perspective, but I want to do better research by expanding my perspectives through this program.”

Lee’s project is “Development of Novel Nanoparticle functionalized Nanocoating for Efficient Cell Therapy.”

“I am specifically interested in therapeutic cell engineering for biomedical applications,” Lee said. “For example, I am currently working on novel nanocoating of mammalian cells for efficient cell delivery. Even though a lot of research has been conducted regarding cell engineering up to now, I feel like breakthroughs for the current limitations are still needed.”

Lee’s adviser is Yong Wang.

Griselda Martinez

Griselda Martinez is a human development and family studies graduate student at Penn State College of Health and Human Development at University Park campus.

“I hope to apply the skills I learn in the TSF program by incorporating components of translational science into my research program and collaborations,” Martinez said. “I would like to learn skills that will allow me to translate and apply findings from basic science research to help inform and optimize evidence-based prevention and intervention programs for adolescents and their families across communities.”

Martinez’s project is “Family and Peer Hassles, Cultural Processes and Alcohol Use in Mexican-Origin Adolescents: A Longitudinal Study.”

“I am interested in examining the risk factors associated with Latinx adolescents’ alcohol use and mental health,” Martinez said. “I am also interested in identifying factors that contribute to resilience and support adolescents’ health and well-being. I am interested in this area of research because I would like to understand better the developmental pathways associated with adolescents’ alcohol use and mental health. I am also interested in identifying potential malleable factors that can be targeted through evidence-based prevention programs that contribute to the health and well-being of adolescents and families.

Martinez’s adviser is Jennifer Maggs.

Kiernan Riley

Kiernan Riley is a nursing graduate student at Penn State College of Nursing, University Park campus.

“The concept of translational research has always been of interest to me, as one of the purposes of research is to improve practice and understanding. If it is not translational, we lose this aspect of research outcomes. As a nurse researcher and practicing nurse, I hope to continue developing and completing research projects that have meaning for the scientific field and the community I am researching. I hope to apply skills that I learn as a Translational Science Fellowship scholar to elevate my research endeavors and enhance outcomes within my patient populations.”

Riley’s project is “End-of-Life Care for Persons with Severe and Persistent Mental Illnesses.”

“I am interested in the end-of-life period of persons with severe and persistent mental illnesses and how health care professionals can provide competent, effective palliative/end-of-life care to this population,” Riley said. “I have seen in my clinical practice as a hospice nurse that persons with severe and persistent mental illnesses are often provided suboptimal care. This needs clinical reform, and the end-of-life period should be no exception.”

Riley’s adviser is Judith Hupcey.

Deniz Siso

Deniz Siso is a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey.

“This program will help me gain several new skills, and I hope to apply them throughout my career as I conduct medical research,” Siso said. “For instance, I will learn technical skills such as data analysis that I hope to implement in my research to quantify trends better, especially if I deal with big data. Additionally, some courses will cover non-technical topics such as elevator pitches, which could be useful if I write proposals for research funding and need to create a compelling and concise argument for my ideas.”

Siso’s project is “Impact of Pre-surgical Muscle Size and Quality on Outcomes of Total Shoulder Arthroplasty.”

“I am interested in developing tools, methods and devices that can improve the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect musculoskeletal structures,” Siso said. “This interest sparked when I was developing a novel safety device for intraosseous needles as an engineering student in college. The working prototype of the device proved to increase the safety and effectiveness of intraosseous injections and ultimately became patent-pending. Inventing a new device that would directly and positively affect patient care was a fulfilling experience. It inspired me to combine my engineering background with my medical education to find solutions to challenging problems in orthopedics.”

Siso’s adviser is Meghan Vidt.

About Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute provides tools, services and training to make health research more efficient at Penn State. It advocates for translational science at the university and is a bridge between basic scientists and clinical researchers. The institute encourages collaboration to discover new treatments, medical procedures and ways to diagnose disease. Learn more at ctsi.psu.edu.


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